Weekend Preview: 3/4-3/6

We have reached the final weekend of the 2016 regular season, and it is also the first weekend of the 2016 postseason. And wouldn’t you know it, we already have madness. Bucknell and North Florida, two regular season champions, have already fallen in their conference tournaments, ending their dream of making it to the NCAA Tournament. Well, actually, North Florida still has a chance to get into the field, but I’ll explain that later on in this post. There are a lot of big games this weekend to close out the regular season, as well as a few conference championship games. There are a few big games this weekend that won’t be determined until we see results that have yet to happen, so we won’t go into those. Here is a preview of all the action coming up this weekend!

Austin Peay vs Belmont (OVC Semifinal, in Nashville)
When: Fri 3/4, 7:30 pm ESPNU
Why: Austin Peay just barely sneaked into the OVC Tournament as the 8-seed, but they have proceeded to upset 5-seed Tennessee Tech and 4-seed Tennessee State, and they now have a shot to get to the title game. It won’t be easy, as they’ll have to go through the OVC regular season champs, the Belmont Bruins. The Bruins have experience on their side, as they have won the OVC Tournament two of the last three seasons, and won the Atlantic Sun Tournament in the two years prior to the move to the OVC.
Player to Watch: Belmont G Craig Bradshaw – Bradshaw is the leader for this Belmont team, and he never saw a shot he wouldn’t take. He scored 25 points against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last year, so he’s not afraid of the big stage. He has struggled with his shot over the last couple games, so I’ll be interested to see how he performs in this one.
Prediction: Austin Peay is playing with a lot of momentum, but Belmont is simply the better team. The only meeting this season saw Belmont win by 18 points, and I expect a similar result this time out.

Vanderbilt @ #20 Texas A&M
When: Sat 3/5, 12:00 noon ESPN2
Why: Vanderbilt has been playing really good basketball down the stretch, and they are currently riding a four-game winning streak. They have worked their way into the tourney field, and would love to get another big win as they head into the SEC Tournament. Texas A&M meanwhile hasn’t been playing at the same level that they were earlier in the season. They’re still a threat to advance deep into the Tournament, and closing out their season with a win over Vanderbilt would be nice.
Player to Watch: Vanderbilt G Matthew Fisher-Davis – Fisher-Davis, a sophomore from Charlotte, has taken on more of a scoring role late in the season for the Commodores. He’s averaging just over 14 points a game over Vandy’s last seven, and a big game from him will give them a good chance to get the victory.
Prediction: It will be the last home game for Texas A&M stars Alex Caruso, Danuel House and Jalen Jones, so they’ll come out firing. But I just think Vanderbilt is playing extremely will right now, and they’ll go into College Station and pull off the upset.

LSU @ #22 Kentucky
When: Sat 3/5, 2:00 pm CBS
Why: LSU got a huge win over Kentucky earlier this season at home, and now in March, I’d venture to say that LSU will need to get another win over the Wildcats if they want any chance at an at-large bid to the tourney. Kentucky has something to play for here too though, as they will win the SEC outright with a win and a Texas A&M loss.
Player to Watch: LSU F Ben Simmons – Did you really think I was going to say anyone else? Simmons has been a little gunshy on the offensive end at times this season, but if LSU is going to win this game, he needs to be assertive.
Prediction: This isn’t the same LSU team that beat Kentucky in early January, and this isn’t the same Kentucky team that lost to LSU in early January. Kentucky is playing really well right now, and I don’t see them losing at home.

#10 West Virginia @ #19 Baylor
When: Sat 3/5, 2:00 pm ESPN
Why: The Big 12 finale for two teams who have hopes of reaching the Final Four this season. West Virginia plays one of the most aggressive styles of defense in the country, while Baylor plays a rare 1-3-1 defense, and will try to do everything they can to keep you out of the middle. Stylistically, this should be a fun match-up.
Player to Watch: West Virginia G Tarik Phillip – Phillip is one of a batch of talented guards for the Mountaineers, but he is the best shooter of the bunch. He’s shooting 40.5% from 3-point range this season, and Baylor struggles to defend the arc. They’ll need some threes from Phillip if they’re going to get the victory.
Prediction: Baylor has looked really good at times, and really bad at times. Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford will be playing their last home game, and they’ll be extra motivated to get the win. This should be a tight one, but I like Baylor to pull it out.

#21 Iowa State @ #1 Kansas
When: Sat 3/5, 4:00 pm ESPN
Why: Right now, Kansas is the best team in the country. They have been red-hot, and they do not lose at home. Iowa State is a very good team in their own right, and if anybody is going to win in Allen Fieldhouse, the Cyclones could be the team. Kansas has clinched the outright Big 12 title, and will look to enter the Big 12 Tournament with some more momentum.
Player to Watch: Kansas F Perry Ellis – This will be the final game in Allen Fieldhouse for one of the all time greats in Kansas basketball history, and that’s saying something. Look for Ellis to put on a show in his final game in front of the home crowd.
Prediction: Sorry Iowa State, but Kansas looks like a team on a mission. We know some crazy things will happen in the Tournament this year, but it’s hard not to view Kansas as the favorite to win it all right now. They’ll win this game.

#9 Oregon @ USC
When: Sat 3/5, 4:00 pm Pac 12 Network
Why: USC is really scuffling at the end of the year, and are definitely in danger of missing the Tournament. A win over the Pac 12 regular season champs would go a long way towards ensuring their spot in the field. But, a win for Oregon clinches the outright title, something they haven’t had in a very long time. They’ll be motivated.
Player to Watch: Oregon G/F Dillon Brooks – Brooks is the unquestionable leader for this Ducks squad, and he is definitely near the top of the list for Pac 12 Player of the Year. He’s scored in double digits in 15 straight games, and he’ll need to play well for Oregon to get this win.
Prediction: This is a massive opportunity for the Trojans here at the end of the regular season, but I just don’t think they’re playing good enough right now to beat a team like Oregon. The Ducks have struggled at times on the road, but I think they’ll get this win and clinch the outright Pac 12 title.

#8 North Carolina @ #17 Duke
When: Sat 3/5, 6:30 pm ESPN
Why: You don’t need a reason to watch this game, but if you really want one, tune in to see if Grayson Allen trips a player or throws a hissy fit.
Player to Watch: North Carolina F Brice Johnson – Johnson was dominant in the first meeting against Duke, but for the final nine minutes of the game, he stopped touching the ball. That can’t happen again if the Tar Heels want to win this.
Prediction: North Carolina is a definite title contender, and they clinch at least a share of the ACC regular season championship with a win. I don’t see them losing twice to this Duke team.

#16 Iowa @ Michigan
When: Sat 3/5, 8:00 pm Big Ten Network
Why: Talk about two teams that are struggling. Iowa has lost four straight games, and they need to get a win before the postseason if for no other reason than for their confidence. Meanwhile, Michigan has worked their way down to the Bubble, and they are just barely in right now for most experts. They could really use a big win like this.
Player to Watch: Iowa F Jarred Uthoff – Uthoff is one of the top candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year, and if he’s going to win that award over Denzel Valentine, a huge game here would be helpful. He could also use a huge game to help his team get out of this downward spiral.
Prediction: This is a tough one to predict, with Iowa playing bad and Michigan being at home. I just have no faith in the Wolverines, so I like Iowa to get back on track heading into the postseason.

VCU @ Dayton
When: Sat 3/5, 8:00 pm CBS Sports Network
Why: Many people think these are the two best teams in the Atlantic 10, and they’ll have their first meeting of the season on the last day of the regular season. VCU has clinched at least a share of the A-10 title, but can clinch it outright with a victory. With a Dayton win, as many as four teams could share the regular season title.
Player to Watch: VCU G Melvin Johnson – Johnson has had a terrific senior season for the Rams, and has been a great team leader. He will look to lead this team to a Tournament run, but first, he’ll need a big game to help them get past Dayton.
Prediction: Dayton has been struggling at home over the last few weeks, with losses to St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island on their own floor. But this is their last home game of the year, and with a shot at a regular season title, I like them to get the victory.

#11 Louisville @ #4 Virginia
When: Sat 3/5, 8:30 pm ESPN
Why: UNC/Duke isn’t the only big game in the ACC this weekend. These teams are both 12-5 in conference play, and with a win and losses by Miami and North Carolina, could share the ACC regular season championship. With Louisville ineligible for postseason play, that is all they have to play for in their last game of the season.
Player to Watch: Louisville G Damion Lee – Lee has had a spectacular career between Drexel and Louisville. This will be the final game of his collegiate career, so look for him to have a huge game.
Prediction: Virginia is really good at home, and they’re looking at a possible 1-seed in the Tournament. But for some reason, I just like Louisville in this one. Rick Pitino will have them fired up for their last game of the season, and I think they’ll pull off the big upset.

Colorado @ #13 Utah
When: Sat 3/5, 9:30 pm ESPNU
Why: The Pac 12 has had a really good season, and they’re looking to put up to eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. While Utah is surging late and is a lock to make the field, Colorado is still on the Bubble and could use the big win that beating Utah would provide. They’re on the right side of the Bubble right now, but that could easily change.
Player to Watch: Colorado F Josh Scott – Scott is one of the best players that you don’t know about. He scored 26 points last week in a win over Arizona, and he’ll look to go toe-to-toe with Jakob Poeltl in this one.
Prediction: I think this will be a really good game, and could come down to the last possession. But at home, playing with a ton of confidence, I’ll take Utah to close out the regular season with a victory.

#24 SMU @ Cincinnati
When: Sun 3/6, 12:00 noon CBS
Why: This will be the last game of the season for Larry Brown’s Mustangs, as they are ineligible from the postseason. Cincinnati is eligible, but their chances of making the Big Dance are looking a little bleak following a loss to Houston. If they want a chance for an at-large bid, a win over SMU in their finale would go a long way.
Player to Watch: SMU G Nic Moore – This will be the final game of the spectacular career for Moore, and I look for him to go out in a big way as he tries to finish his time at SMU with a victory.
Prediction: Cincinnati needs this win badly, really badly. If they don’t get it, I think they’ll need to win the American. That being said, SMU will be motivated in their final game, and I think they’ll be good enough to get the win.

#14 Maryland @ #12 Indiana
When: Sun 3/6, 4:30 pm CBS
Why: Indiana has already clinched the Big Ten regular season title, an impressive feat for a team missing it’s second best player (James Blackmon Jr.), and with a coach who entered the season on the hot seat. The Hoosiers have won 16 straight games at Assembly Hall, but Maryland will come in looking for a huge win and some momentum heading to the postseason.
Player to Watch: Indiana PG Yogi Ferrell – This will be the last game in front of the home faithful for Ferrell, who has had one of the best careers in school history. I know Ferrell will want to lead his team to a win in his last home game, so look for him to go off in this one.
Prediction: Maryland hasn’t played all that great lately, and they’re coming into a place where Indiana rarely loses. Led by Ferrell, I like Indiana to show exactly why they’re the Big Ten Champions.

Stetson @ Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun Championship)
When: Sun 3/6, 7:00 pm ESPN2
Why: Remember earlier when I mentioned that North Florida still has a shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament? Well, that will happen if Stetson is able to win the Atlantic Sun Championship. Allow me to explain: Stetson is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year due to academic sanctions, but the Atlantic Sun has allowed them to compete in the conference tournament. If Stetson wins this game, the conference has decided that the regular season champion will get the auto-bid. That was North Florida. Stetson is the 7-seed in the tournament, and it’s an upset that they’ve made it this far. They’ll take on 4-seed Florida Gulf Coast, who destroyed North Florida in the semifinals. If the Eagles win, they will go to the NCAA Tournament.
Player to Watch: Florida Gulf Coast F Marc-Eddy Norelia – The first time FGCU hosted Stetson this year, Norelia went for 16 points and 7 rebounds off the bench as the Eagles won by 31 points. He scored 23 points and collected 13 rebounds in the semifinals, and he’ll look for a similar performance in this one.
Prediction: It would be kind of crazy if Stetson finishes off a crazy run and gets North Florida into the Tournament, but I just don’t see it. Stetson beat FGCU in the regular season finale, but that was at home. The Eagles should get the win and head back to the Tournament for the first time since their Sweet 16 run in 2013.

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